New Coach Looking For Someone To Step Up

In the 16th of a series of Tiger Ticket articles previewing spring training for the football Tigers, the quarterback position is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--When the Auburn Tigers open spring football practice Tuesday, many eyes will be on the offensive side of the ball where offensive line Coach Hugh Nall begins his term as coordinator and quarterback Coach Steve Ensminger makes his initial appearance on the Auburn practice field. While much of the offense will remain the same as it was under former Coach Bobby Petrino, there will be some minor changes made by Ensminger in hopes of improving the play at quarterback.

A veteran coach who has been working with quarterbacks since the 1984 season at McNeese State, the former LSU quarterback has seen his share of top-notch signal callers in his time. Included in that group is Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier, who flourished under Ensminger's watch from 1991-93 in Athens. Anxious to see what returning starter Jason Campbell has to offer on the field as well as the challengers for the backup job, Ensminger says that he's looking forward to getting to work Tuesday.

With freshmen Josh Sullivan, Wesley Hill and Brandon Cox all available to practice this spring, it should make for an interesting battle for the second team position heading into two-a-days. Ensminger says he has a couple of goals in mind to accomplish before that time and before the annual A-Day game on April 5.

"Number one is they have to understand the offense and the terminology," Ensminger tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "There can't be any missed assignments. If they don't understand the offense and we're throwing the ball to the wrong guy or we're making mistakes, you don't have a chance. I think that's fair because of what we have in this offense and we've gone over. It puts a lot on them and if it means enough to each of them to learn it, then they won't make those mistakes during practice. If one or two of them are making a lot of mistakes in practice then they're not studying enough. I understand the time it takes to study because I'm having to do it right now. That's number one.

Campbell prepares to throw in Auburn's victory over Alabama last season.

"Number two is making the right decisions, not turning the ball over and getting better with our timing routes," he adds. "Because of the way they were taught, I thought Bobby (Petrino) did a great job with them on the fundamentals. I think the one thing we can improve on is our timing, getting rid of the football before the receiver breaks so we don't have to sit back there holding the football."

Helping Auburn to a 9-4 record despite starting just six games, Campbell threw for 1,215 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2002 with just five interceptions. A quarterback who doesn't make many mistakes in the passing game, he has completed a school-record 62.9 percent of his passes in two seasons. Still Ensminger is hoping to see some improvement in several areas out of the junior this spring to make him a more complete quarterback before next fall.

"I think Jason still has some development to do as far as some of the things we've talked about," Ensminger notes. "That is getting the ball to our backs and our timing routes, getting rid of the ball quicker and not taking sacks. He's still going to need some reps, but the first part of spring is going to be very important to see which one (Sullivan, Hill or Cox) steps up and then see which one we want to give the reps to."

Campbell and Sullivan throw during an early practice last fall.

While Campbell returns this spring solidly as the starter, the same can't be said for the rest of the pecking order at the position. Sullivan, a 6-4, 201 strong-armed walk-on, is listed as number two heading into spring practice because of his play last fall in practice and scout team situations. Hill and Cox are both behind Sullivan at the moment. Cox missed all of last fall with health problems that caused him to drop out of school, but he has the talent and smarts to make some noise this spring. Ensminger says that he's looking forward to seeing what all of his quarterbacks bring to the table on the field.

"Obviously, Jason has the experience and understands the offense as well as I do or better right now," Ensminger notes. "The other ones in the offseason are working hard, but you can't get on the field and throw with them and all that. It's basically just a feel thing. I think the beauty of the situation is right now without seeing film on these other three that position is open. They'll have to compete for it during the spring and one of them will step up and win that position."

A concern at one time was the availability of Sullivan, who is also seeing action on the mound and pinch-hitting for the baseball team this spring. A highly regarded baseball player from Little Rock, Ark., Sullivan will continue to play hardball but Ensminger says the quarterback's first priority is going to be with the football team.

"He won't miss any practices or meetings or anything else," notes Ensminger. "He understands that, even playing baseball. He'll be here full time giving it his best shot."

The Tigers will practice 15 times this spring with the final coming in the A-Day game. Two scrimmages are planned for the month of March on the 8th and 15th. Auburn opens its season Aug. 30 when the Tigers play the USC Trojans at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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